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Hundreds of accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers and Postlethwaite & Netterville have been hired to evaluate economic loss claims filed by victims of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Despite BP’s public pledge that it would pay all legitimate claims in a timely fashion, here we are nearly six years later with tens of thousands of claims yet to be processed.

Blame BP, not the accountants

This inexcusable delay is the direct result of BP’s meddling in the compensation program. The company filed numerous lawsuits attempting to overturn the very settlement it drafted, negotiated and executed. BP viciously attacked Patrick Juneau, the Claims Administrator BP itself agreed was the best man for the job. And the company continues to file frivolous appeal after frivolous appeal in an attempt to delay otherwise legitimate payments.

Not surpringly, a significant number of victims have simply died while waiting for their claims to be paid. Others, because of the six year delay, no longer have access to financial records that substantiate their claims. Looking back, this all appears to be part of BP’s grand scheme. Little to no evidence remains of BP’s so-called “Commitment to the Gulf.”

In hindsight it is no surprise that the compensation program BP designed and marketed as “claimant friendly” has devolved into a war of attrition between BP and its victims. It’s no stretch to guess who will win that battle. Or is it?

“Produce the greatest economic damage compensation amount”

The soldiers in the trenches of this unholy BP war are in a position to do the right thing. I’m speaking of the accountant vendors and other claim processing professionals from PwC, Postlethwaite & Netterville, Brown Greer and other well respected companies. These folks are tasked with doing the hard work of processing claims in the face of BP’s constant threats and interference.

The overarching principle these accountants and claim processors should live by is spelled out in Section 4.3.8 of the 1,200+ page Deepwater Horizon Economic & Property Damages Settlement Agreement:

“The Claims Administration Vendors shall evaluate and process the information in the completed Claim Form and all supporting documentation under the terms in the Economic Damage Claim Process to produce the greatest economic damage compensation amount that such information and supporting documentation allows under the terms of the economic damage claim framework.” (emphasis added)

BP agreed to that very language when the company entered into the master settlement agreement. There is no ambiguity. There is no gray, just black and white. The meaning of that paragraph is crystal clear. If a vendor accountant has any question about which fork in the road to take when evaluating and valuing a victim’s claim, she must take the one that generates the “greatest economic damage compensation amount” for the claimant. If a claim could be viewed from multiple angles, resulting in a multitude of different claim values, the vendor must chose the approach that generates the “greatest economic damage compensation amount” for the claimant. Section 4.3.8 makes this abundantly clear and its inclusion was a crucial part of the benefit of the bargain negotiated into this settlement.

Further, Section 4.3.7 requires Claims Administration vendors to make their best efforts to assist claimants in reaching a successful conclusion, i.e., payment of their claim:

“The Settlement Program, including the Claims Administrator and Claims Administration Vendors, shall use its best efforts to provide Economic Class Members with assistance, information, opportunities and notice so that the Economic Class Member has the best opportunity to be determined eligible for and receive the Settlement Payment(s) to which the Economic Class Member is entitled under the terms of the Agreement.” (emphasis added)

Reading Sections 4.3.7 and 4.3.8 together leave no doubt that the claimant should always be treated more favorably than BP. If the tie goes to the runner in baseball, the accountant vendors should make sure it goes to the claimant in this process.

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